Jersey Towns

New Jersey is a strange place. Sandwiched in between New York City and Philadelphia, New Jersey doesn’t have its own culture or personality. In the North, we know more about the traffic patterns of Cross Bronx expressway than what’s going on around the Meadowlands; South Jersey cheers for the Phillies. People here self-identify based on their towns, not the state. People will say that they’re from Secaucus or Paterson, not from Jersey.

If all politics are local, Jersey takes it a step further. All life is local here. People grow up in their towns and never leave. They coach their kid’s little league games on the same fields that they played on as kids. They gradually will open up to new people who land in their towns and will be friendly enough, but their loyalties always remain with the long standing locals and their relatives who all live about ten minutes away. Sundays mean huge extended families and a large pasta dinner.

We moved to our first home in a New Jersey town, when Jonah was five. We needed a backyard and nearby schools. We embraced our new lives and planned on staying for the long haul. But then, things started falling apart. Our youngest son didn’t attend school in the town, because of his disability, so we only had one kid involved in the town life, which centered around the kids’ sports leagues. Our property value kept dropping, because new zoning laws put our home just a few yards from a commercial district. The test scores for the school put the town on a NCLB watchlist, and nobody seemed to care.

We put the house – a home that we had lovingly restored – on the market and moved six years ago to a new town. It  was a big deal. Some of our old friends stopped talking to us. Jonah was in middle school at the time and he had a rough transition. We went from a 15-year to a 30-year mortgage. But we were desperate. We needed a change.

It was a gamble. We didn’t really know that the new town would provide our kids with a better education. We didn’t really know if the house would be a good investment. We didn’t really know if we would fit into this new community.

This town has more people who have lived elsewhere, more professionals, higher school test scores, sports teams that win everything, and is much, much bigger. But that’s just stats on a wikipedia page. What about the intangibles?

Friends asked me last week, if we did the right thing. I had a few glasses of wine in me at the time, and didn’t have a great answer ready. I’ve been thinking about this question all week.

This town is different from a lot of other Jersey towns, because it is so atypically Jersey. It’s not based on tribal family ties, but on a tradition of social capital. There are a million different clubs and activities. I’ve been at meetings for the school or politics every night this week. People volunteer like crazy. And they have super high skill levels. The presidents of the PTA have MBA’s from Harvard or ran the publicity department of a Fortune 500 company before becoming a stay at home mother.

The Newcomers club has hundreds of members. There are genealogy societies at the library. The Presbyterian church hosted the West Point marching band. The Catholic church runs a food kitchen. There’s the League of Women Voters, a historical society, tech classes, cooking classes, amateur birding clubs, dozens of book groups, free movies.

Since I spend so many hours in front of a computer during the day, it’s nice to have those social outlets in the evening. With only one kid in the local public school, I’m much less plugged in than others, but I get by.

With all the intensity in town, I can’t say for certain that the move was great for our kids. Somethings they do get lost in shuffle. There have been pros and cons, for sure. Steve and myself benefitted in more obvious ways though we still bat around the idea of moving back to Manhattan when Ian finishes school.

I suppose I still don’t have a great answer about whether or not our gamble paid off. For the present, it did.

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I’m weighing the pros and cons of walking to the express bus along the side of the highway to get into New York City for a charter school debate.

Con – Been out at meetings all week (tomorrow, too); it would be nice to communicate with my husband. Also, the rain splash factor will be high along the highway.

Pro – Might learn something new. I want to meet one of the participants.

I find utopian communities and hermits fascinating.

A close up look at DeVos’s Christian college.

Nobody wants your granny’s china tea cups anymore.

I adore Cormac McCarthy.

How Donald Trump eats his steak matters.

The Bathroom Debate

Thanks to Jeff Sessions, Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos are changing their minds about transgendered students’ access to the gendered bathrooms of their choice.

I honestly don’t get the heat behind this debate on either side. Deporting millions of undocumented individuals, discrediting the free press, and colluding with Russia are much bigger issues for me. But let’s just chat about it anyway for a minute.

Why do we need gendered bathrooms? Make ’em all unisex. Guys can pee in a stall.

There. Problem solved.

Selling Out

Let’s not talk about Donald Trump today. Because unlike the federal government, things at home are clicking together rather nicely.

I’m now juggling three writing gigs that together add up to adequate compensation and interesting work that is super flexible. I’ve got the green light to do some necessary repairs on the house. Hello, white subway tile in the kitchen! I’ve got the kids mostly set for schools for next year. Well, we have an excellent Plan B for Jonah in case his Plan A doesn’t work out. Ian’s new school is great and will take care of him until he’s 21. I do have to figure out the summer special ed camp situation, but that’s a small potatoes worry.

What’s a neurotic girl to do when things are working out nicely? Not a damn thing. Find a corner to read a book and sip a glass of wine, maybe. And cook big vats of food for people. Last night, there were twelve for meatballs and pasta. We’ve done pizza and beer. Spontaneous stew night was good, too.

I’m in between work projects right now. It probably won’t last more than a day or two, but right now, I’m enjoying the fact that I know that there will be work coming soon, but it’s not here yet.

I never planned on becoming a freelance writer. It sort of landed on my lap when my Plan A fell apart. And it’s not entirely one thing. There’s the serious writing work that isn’t too far off from academic writing. That’s not a shocker. But then there have been other job offers that have absolutely nothing to do with my training. Last summer, I got a call from a huge advertising company that needed help with their toilet paper client. That one didn’t work out. Drat. I enjoyed feeling like Peggy Olsen for a week or two.

Now, it’s a hugely privileged thing to take on these jobs. Steve’s got the health insurance and the proper salary. My job will buy the white subway tile and the wine for the spontaneous stew parties. My friends who depend on their freelance gigs to pay the rent are stressed by the instability of work. For me, it’s fine.

A few months ago, a teacher in town told me that her brother was one of James Patterson’s ghost writers. I guess there’s a small cottage industry of ghostwriting best sellers. The teacher said that her brother had a great lifestyle. He has a good contract that brings him a huge chunk of the royalties. So, he lives in a big house in Connecticut, writes for five hours a day, and then play golf and rides his ponies for the rest of the day.

The guy must be pretty talented to do this job. I can’t imagine that anybody could walk off the street and pump out a best seller. I’m sure that he started off with dreams of having his own name on a serious novel, rather than writing formulaic flippery that is sold in airport gift shops. But ghostwriting is working out for him. If he wanted to, he could still work on his own projects in the afternoon.

I’m not there yet, but with the kids settled for the time being, I’m piecing together a new career.

The Catholic Schools Saved by Vouchers

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Catholic schools, once a mainstay for the Irish, Italian, and Polish communities in American cities, are struggling. With shrinking numbers of nuns as a source of free labor, and fewer parishioners passing the donation baskets on Sunday and enrolling their kids in parochial schools, many simply cannot afford to keep their doors open. Just last week, the Archdiocese of New York announced the closure of five more schools for financial reasons; that’s on top of dozens that were shutteredin 2011 and 2013.

More here.

The Penguin

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I spent three days doing nothing but research, write, and edit an article on Catholic schools and school vouchers. (For breaks, I gobbled down cheap, mindless novels in a sunny corner.) Just as my article hits the website, Donald Trump has a meltdown on national TV. Ain’t nobody reading my little education article now. Arg!

This is my dad’s fifth grade school photo. He is sitting in the back. Red hair, big ears, dark tie. Check out the class size. Our Lady of Peace on the Southside of Chicago was closed down in 1999.